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Higher Water Changes Salida’s Scout Wave

With snow melting in the mountains, Salida’s newest water park feature, the Scout Wave, has turned into a powerful giant. Since its creation and up until just last week, river surfers have enjoyed its perfection as a surf wave. Locals and surfers new to the sport from across Colorado have evolved into confident wave riders, with skilled surfers sharing their knowledge as they patiently wait their turn in line. Walkers along the river trail often pause and take seats on nearby boulders for the enjoyment of watching.

Placing sandbags to help fine-tune the impact of rapidly rising flows on the Arkansas at the Scout Wave. Susan Roebuck photo

Just last week, however, high waters from spring runoff created a potentially dangerous hydraulic effect for the unaware, with a giant roll of water falling back on itself and obliterating the formerly smooth wave. By mid-week a trackhoe and operator, with engineers on the scene, dug into the riverbed, removing material and repositioning boulders, in an attempt to ease the turmoil.

By the end of the week, an enormous crane maneuvered giant sandbags weighing 3,500 to 6,000 pounds apiece, while engineers and consultants observed how the current responded.

This past weekend the river was running at 1,250 cubic feet per second (CFS), up from between 200 to 500 CFS for the past several months. With much snow still to melt coming down from the mountains, the river is changing day by day.

John Kreski, Rationing and Agreement Coordinator with Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area (AHRA), said it could reach higher than 2,000 CFS before the volume begins to subside.

It is not precisely known how much more snow melt will come down from the still-frozen heights, how soon, or how quickly. Current flow data can be obtained from Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area (AHRA) for the Wellsville measuring station.

Kreski emphasized that the Scout Wave is a new feature on the Arkansas, and people need to be aware that it “has a crunch to it now.” But, he said, “Those who use the river at any time should inform themselves of the river’s current conditions and should scout the river.”

The Scout Wave is Different from the Other River Park Features

Readying to pour concrete, as the Scout Wave in Salida takes shape, Sept 16, 2022 during a time of low water flow on the Arkansas. Merrell Bergin photo

Unlike other play hole features on the Arkansas, the new Scout Wave, which opened in October, 2022, squeezes water into a narrower channel using concrete abutments on either side. So this is the first spring season for those riding its waves.

Additionally, the Scout Wave has a poured concrete pan beneath it. (The river was diverted temporarily during construction.) Smooth concrete beneath the current creates the glassy surf wave.

Lead designer Mike Harvey, with Recreation Engineers and Planning and owner of Badfish SUP, (which manufactures and sells stand-up paddleboards (SUP) and river surf boards), has been designing and overseeing construction of Salida’s playholes and water features for 24 years.

Recreation Engineers and Planning has created whitewater play features across the country, including Buena Vista’s and Pueblo’s river parks on the Arkansas.

River parks have been growing in popularity across the country and the Scout Wave is the “top-notch” river surfing wave in the state, if not in the entire country, said Kreski. Chaffee County Commissioner P.T. Wood said that Salida’s River Park is an important economic driver for Salida and Chaffee County.

Salida’s river park features are funded through a myriad of financing sources, including funds from the state, the City of Salida, AHRA, and private funds. Each feature’s funding is a blend that may include some or all of the funding sources. In the case of the Scout Wave, the City of Salida’s Parks and Recreation provided much of the funding, coordination, and planning.

Ark Valley Voice reached out to both Mike Harvey of Recreation Engineers and Planning, and Mike “Diesel” Post with the City of Salida; both indicated they are currently working through the details and were unavailable for comment by press time.

Surfer cautiously navigated the Salida Scout Wave on May 21, 2023 two days after large sand bags were placed to help with high flow conditions. Susan Roebuck photo.

With twelve giant sandbags strategically placed at the start of this week, the Scout Wave is safer, though “not great for surfing,” one surfer said on May 21. Observers on the river bank are questioning how safe it is for various craft, wondering how it will look during FIBArk, and whether placement of sandbags will have to occur yearly.

Once the flows subside back to 1,000 CFS and below, the Scout Wave will once again be at its surf-wave best. For now, all river users should be aware that the water is still rising. Flows may increase by another 60-plus percent (800 CFS).

This new river feature in Salida is responding, and water is powerful.

Featured image (above, top): High water flow makes river surfing unfeasible at Salida Scout Wave; 2:47 p.m. May 19, 2023. Merrell Bergin photo